The Book: As I’ve told you in the past, I’m a sucker for good Southern food. Although I’m a New England girl through and through in most other aspects, the four years I spent in North Carolina were very formative for me in terms of learning to truly appreciate good food. Because of this, new Southern cookbooks get pride of place on my cookbook radar, and Heritage, the new cookbook from Sean Brock, was no exception. Hailing from “the part of Western Virginia that should have been Kentucky,” but receiving his culinary education in South Carolina, Brock makes food that has Southern roots both deep and wide. There’s a strong sense of purpose in the pages of Heritage – to embrace local food not only for its ethics and flavor, but for its history and story. I love how much narrative Brock has included in this book; it really helps me feel engrossed in the food’s history and culture. A strong emphasis on understanding your ingredients, where they came from, and how they can vary – for example, chicken is not just chicken, but poussin, broiler, fryer, roaster, or stew hen, depending on its age, and a different preparation is appropriate for each bird – completes the local, ethical, Southern vibe. The recipes skew more toward restaurant food than home-cooking, with multiple components and appliances required for many (the carefully composed plating of the photographed dishes will tip you off to this right off the bat). This isn’t a negative for an adventurous cook, but I do wish there were a few more homestyle dishes that would be easy to make and serve on a casual weeknight. Organized by source of food – the garden, the mill, the creek, the pasture- there is a great variety of recipe type, with a whole chapter dedicated to preserving (The Larder) and another one to cocktails and bar snacks (The Public House). Between the extensive narrative and the diverse recipes, most readers will find plenty to hold their interest in Heritage.
The Food: Trevor and I are big fans of cooking with rabbit, but we’ve had trouble finding recipes that really allow it to shine. This Russian Rabbit and Mushroom Pie is our favorite, but we were less impressed with the Rabbit Cacciatore from Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. Sean includes a couple of rabbit recipes in Heritage, so we decided to give the Rabbit Stew with Black Pepper Dumplings a go. It’s similar to a rabbit stew we enjoyed at Alden & Harlow a few weeks back, and also one of the more straightforward recipes in the book. The stew is made by making a broth from the rabbit, then removing and shredding the rabbit meat, while thickening the broth with a roux. The dumplings (which are really biscuits) are formed and baked separately, then tossed in the stew for the last few minutes of cooking, which gives you more control over their size, shape and level of doneness. I have mixed feelings about the end result – the stew was certainly tasty, and even more so as leftovers the next day, but I’m not sure it was tasty enough to warrant the use of a rabbit in place of a less pricey chicken. This could have something to do with the quality of our rabbit, of course – there’s not a ton of choice for rabbit meat near us. I think it’s a recipe that I’d like to try again with some of my own tweaks, but a good starting point.
Recipe Shortlist: Low Country Hoppin’ John; Corn Goat Cheese Soup with Shrimp and Brown-Butter Chanterelles; Green Garlic Bisque with Herbed Buttermilk and Fried Green Tomato Croutons; Cracklin’ Cornbread; Charred Beef Short Ribs with Glazed Carrots and Black Truffle Puree; Rabbit Andouille with Braised Peppers and Lady Pea Gravy; Rhubarb Buckle with Poppy-Seed Buttermilk Ice Cream
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Heritage free of charge from Artisan, but I was not otherwise compensated and all thought and opinions are my own.
Rabbit Stew with Black Pepper Dumplings
Recipe adapted slightly from Heritage. Serves 6.
For the dumplings:
- 1 lb. (3 1/3 c.) pastry flour, sifted and chilled in freezer
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 TBS freshly ground black pepper
- 8 TBS unsalted butter, frozen
- 1 1/2 c. ice cold whole-milk buttermilk
For the stew:
- 1 large rabbit (2-3 pounds)
- 4 c. small dice white onions
- 2 c. medium dice celery
- 2 c. medium dice carrots
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 TBS unsalted butter
- 1/4 c. flour
- 1 TBS soy sauce
- 1 TBS hot sauce
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To make the dumplings: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine the chilled flour, baking powder, salt, and black pepper. Whisk to combine. Grate the frozen butter over the medium holes of a box grater, and immediately place the cold grated butter into the flour mixture. Use the tips of your fingers to toss the butter with the flour and incorporate just until the texture resembles coarse sand (a few bigger “pebbles” are fine). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Roll the dough out into a circle about 1/2 inch thick, and use a very small pastry cutter to cut small round dumplings (about 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter – we used the bottom of an espresso cup as a cutter). Place the dumplings on the baking sheet and bake just until they start to dry, about 9-10 minutes. You don’t want the dumplings to brown at all, as they should finish baking in the stew. Set the dumplings aside at room temperature.
- To prepare the stew: Remove the giblets from the rabbit. Place the rabbit in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over high heat, skimming any scum from the top of the pot. Once simmering vigorously, add half of the onions, half of the celery, half of the carrots, the thyme, and the bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until broth is golden and rabbit meat pulls away easily from bone, about 1 hour to 90 minutes.
- Remove the rabbit from the pot and let cool slightly. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl, discarding the solids left behind. Rinse the pot and return to the stove. Add the butter and melt over medium heat, then add the other half of the onions. Saute, stirring, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the celery and saute another 2 minutes, then add the carrots and saute until tender, another 8 minutes. Add the flour to the pot and stir so it absorbs the fat. Continue to stir the roux constantly until the flour coating the vegetables is no longer white but a light golden color, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in the reserved broth 1 cup at a time, allowing to thicken slightly between additions. Once all the broth is added, bring to a simmer and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
- While the broth is simmering, remove the rabbit meat from the rabbit and shred into bite-sized pieces, discarding the bones, skin, and tendons. 5 minutes before serving, add the shredded rabbit, hot sauce, soy sauce, and dumplings to the stew and simmer until the dumplings are soft and the rabbit is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.